Last week I wrote about the practical exercises that I have been setting as homework in my first year undergraduate course on thermodynamics. The instruction sheets that I published had been used by thousands of learners on my MOOC, Energy! The Thermodynamics of Everyday Life; and slightly modified versions had been used by more than a thousand students at the University of Liverpool. A few years ago, I produced another MOOC called ‘Understanding Superstructures’ which also contained three practical exercises for online learners to perform in their kitchens. I have not used them as part of a blended undergraduate course but nevertheless they have been completed by hundreds of participants in the MOOC. I have decided to share them for colleagues to use in support of first year courses on the Mechanics of Solids or the Mechanics of Structures. There is strong food flavour and no additional equipment is needed. Please feel free to use them to support your teaching.
Instruction sheets for thermodynamics practical exercises as homework:
I am in the London Underground onboard a train on my way to a conference on ‘New Approaches to Higher Education’ organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Engineering Professors’ Council. The lady opposite has her eyes closed but she is not asleep because she opens them periodically as we come into stations to check whether it’s her stop. I wonder if she is trying to reproduce John Hull’s experience of the depth of sounds as a blind person [see my post entitled ‘Rain brings out the contours in everything‘ on February 22, 2017]. For the second time in recent weeks, I close my eyes and try it for myself. It is surprising how in a crowded train, I can’t hear anyone, just the noise made by the train. It’s like a wobble board that’s joined by a whole percussion section of an orchestra when we go around a bend or over points. The first time I closed my eyes was at a concert at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool. My view of the orchestra was obstructed by the person in front of me so, rather than stare at the back of their head, I closed my eyes and allowed the music to dominate my mind. Switching off the stream of images seemed to release more of my brain cells to register the depth and richness of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 5. I was classified as tone deaf at school when I was kicked out of the choir and I learned no musical instruments, so the additional texture and dimensionality in the music was a revelation to me.
Back to the London Underground – many of my fellow passengers were plugged into their phones or tablets via their ears and eyes. I wondered if any were following the MOOC on Understanding Super Structures that we launched recently. Unlikely I know, but it’s a bit different, because it is mainly audio clips and not videos. We’re trying to tap into some of the time many people spend with earbuds plugged into their ears but also make the MOOC more accessible in countries where internet access is mainly via mobile phones. My recent experiences of listening with my eyes closed, make me realize that perhaps we should ask people to close their eyes when listening to our audio clips so that they can fully appreciate them. If they are sitting on the train then that’s fine but not recommended if you are walking across campus or in town!